Are you faking progress

One of the big traps in life is believing that you’re making progress when there’s no actual evidence of it. It’s easy to keep learning and studying new ideas, methods, and techniques that don’t improve your results… while convincing yourself that you must be making progress simply because you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in learning and growth.

It would be nice if effort equaled results, but it’s very common to apply effort without generating measurable results.

Let me share a personal story to illustrate this…

Based on my efforts at studying and practicing the game of blackjack, I could make a case that I’m an expert blackjack player.

In my 20s I read a dozen or so books about the game of blackjack and a dozen more more about casino gambling in general. I did some independent study on games of chance in college, both for fun and as part of my education for my math degree. In high school I even programmed my Casio fx-8000G calculator to play blackjack, including drawing all the cards pixel by pixel.

However, I soon learned that it’s one thing to hold this knowledge in my mind, and it’s quite another thing to apply it as a real-world skill to get positive results.

Shortly after my 21st birthday, I made my first adult trip to Las Vegas with some friends. Before we left, I practiced counting cards just as I had learned from books. It took hours to memorize the correct play of every hand and to practice counting down a deck until I could do it in 13-14 seconds consistently (about as fast as I could physically flip through all the cards). I felt very well prepared before I ever set foot in a real casino.

On that first trip, I played the lowest limits available, mostly varying my bets from $2 to $10. I won $125 total, giving me a nice reward for my efforts.

This positive result encouraged me to keep playing. I made the 4-hour drive from L. A.

to Vegas dozens of times, taking advantage of the cheap rooms and food that were in abundance at the time. I continued to invest in learning more about blackjack. I studied advanced techniques that could add a bit more edge. I learned more about the social aspects of the game. I started betting a bit more, usually $5-25 or $10-50 ranges, sometimes $25-125. I got used to bigger swings, such as losing $700 or winning $900 in a single sitting. I got kicked out of a casino for winning $200 in a few minutes, so I learned to disguise my play better. I learned how to get comps. I was very disciplined and never risked rent money or went on tilt. For me it was mostly about the challenge. I loved the combination of mathematics and emotional discipline that was required to do well.

Now fast forward 20 years. I’ve been living in Vegas since 2004. There’s a popular casino just 5 minutes from my house. I can walk there if I want. I could go play blackjack at any time of day. But I rarely do these days. And if I do play, I don’t count cards. I would only play for fun, and only at a betting level that’s so far below my means so that it can’t possibly make a difference in my finances. I would never go as high as risking even half a percent of my income over the course of a year.

So on the one hand, I can claim that I have a lot of expertise in this area. I invested a lot of time in learning, and I have many hours of real-world practice. But what are the actual results? I certainly didn’t do anything like the M. I. T. blackjack team did. Given my low betting levels and infrequent play, I wouldn’t even earn enough to reach minimum wage.

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Are you faking progress